Jones Act – Modern Day Pirate Attacks

Pop culture would have us believe that pirates are relics of days gone by. However, mariners who work in global waters know that pirates exist today and are as dangerous as ever. Modern pirates are typically heavily armed and organized, hijacking vessels big and small and either killing, beating or kidnapping members of the crew. Those mariners who must traverse the waters off the coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, South and Central America and the Caribbean must take special precautions in order to avoid potential pirate attacks.

The Latest Pirate Attack News

In 2016, the ICC confirmed that there were 191 reported pirate attacks worldwide. As of June 2017, there have been 73 reported pirate incidents. Most vessels under attack were commercial bulk carrier vessels, container ships, and tankers. Areas of highest concentration include:

  • Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinents
  • Africa and the Red Sea
  • South America
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean

Often, pirates will have a “mother ship” from which multiple skiffs can be deployed with large horsepower outboard engines that can extend the range of ordinary pirate activity. If able to board a vessel, they will often:

  • take control of the vessel
  • threaten and otherwise harm the crew
  • take cargo
  • hold the vessel for ransom
  • kidnap captains and engineers for ransom or use aboard while they hijack the vessel

Protecting Against Pirate Attacks

Owners and operators of commercial vessels have a duty to keep crew as safe as possible. This includes avoiding areas of concentrated pirate activity, preparing and training crew on anti-pirate tactics, and ensuring the vessel employs as many pirate deterrent devices as is practicable. Failure to take adequate measures to avoid a pirate attack opens owners and operators up to liability under maritime laws, including the Jones Act.

In order to reduce a claim of liability, it is wise for the owner of the vessel to:

  • obtain pirate deterring devices such as water cannons, foam monitors, electrified wires, razor wire and sound guns;
  • ensure that key areas of the vessel are reinforced against pirate invasion, including the bridge and engine rooms
  • keep abreast of current pirate activity in the areas traversed by their vessel
  • develop anti-pirate plans and ensure all crew members are adequately trained

Jones Act Liability

If your ship is attacked by pirates and you are injured, you may file a claim under the Jones Act if you can show that the operator, owner or crew members behaved in a negligent manner. The level of negligence that must be shown is quite low in Jones Act cases, and can be found where:

  • Your captain has compromised the safety of the crew by failing to follow protocol
  • Your vessel’s owner did not take reasonable measures to keep the vessel safe from pirates
  • Your fellow crew members were improperly trained or failed to perform their duties during an attack

If you can successfully prove a Jones Act liability case, you may be entitled to past and future lost wages, pain and suffering damages, emotional distress damages, loss of consortium and past/future medical expenses.

Other Maritime Benefits

In addition to bringing a Jones Act negligence case, if you are injured during a pirate attack, you are also entitled to maintenance and cure benefits while you are recovering from your injuries. Maintenance and cure benefits include payment of medical bills, transportation, and necessary living expenses while you are unable to work. You need not prove negligence in order to receive these benefits. You must only show that you were injured in the course of your duties.

Modern day pirate attacks are real and can be deadly if not handled appropriately. Maritime laws protect seamen injured during pirate attacks at sea.

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